Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sophistry, lies, and "worldviews"

I am becoming sick unto death of the word "worldview."

This comes up because of two news stories I read yesterday.  In the first, Michele Bachmann's claim that slave owners before the Civil War were doing the slaves a favor by (1) making them Christian, and (2) providing them food and a place to live, is said not to be a gaffe, but representative of Bachmann's "intellectual worldview."  Her claim that the Founding Fathers "worked tirelessly to end slavery" is a statement, says Doug Mataconis in Outside the Beltway, that is "evidence of a worldview that is very different from what most Americans encounter in their daily lives."

Then, the word came up in an article about the quarreling occurring in some Evangelical Christian academic circles about whether Adam and Eve actually existed.  Four in ten Americans, the article said, "subscribe to the worldview" that Adam and Eve were real, historical figures, who 6,000-odd years ago were created by God, at that time were the only humans on Earth, and who were the ancestors of all 6.8 billion of us alive today.  Apparently some Christian scholars have begun to look at the actual data (which may qualify as a miracle in and of itself) and noting that the paleontological and archaeological evidence does not support a sudden appearance of humans a few thousand years ago, and that furthermore, a descent from one couple in six thousand years is impossible given the range of genetic mutations you see in modern humans.  "You would have to postulate that there's been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time," said Dennis Venema, of Trinity Western University.  "Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence."

Others, however, equally staunchly insist that the literal truth of the Adam and Eve story is "central to the Christian worldview."  Fazale Rana, vice president of the evangelical think tank Reason to Believe, states, " If the parts of Scripture that you are claiming to be false, in effect, are responsible for creating the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, then you've got a problem."

I find it strange how the word "worldview" has become a way of saying, "a view of the world that runs counter to science, fact, logic, and common sense."  Statements, then, no longer can be said to be simply wrong; they are "part of a person's worldview."  If someone wants to claim that slaves were better off being slaves than being free in Africa, that is "part of her worldview."  If someone wants to claim that the findings of the last 150 years of work by trained scientists is wrong, and a Bronze Age fairy tale for which there is not the first shred of evidence is right, that is "part of his worldview."

I'm sorry.  That's intellectual sophistry.  Or, since the topic of this post is speaking clearly and bluntly: it's foolish, and dangerously wrong.

We have become far too willing to be tolerant of anti-scientific, anti-intellectual statements.  In our bland, multicultural desire to be accepting of all viewpoints, we have lost the edge that scholars had a century ago, when all college students were required to take courses in logic and were far better at identifying specious thinking -- and far less hesitant to point it out.  Statements like Rana's and Bachmann's aren't "worldviews;" they're simply wrong.  The Founding Fathers did not "work tirelessly to end slavery."  Many of them were themselves slave owners.  And the descent of all humans from one couple 6,000 years ago would come as something of a surprise to the Native Americans, whose ancestors migrated to North America 6,000 years prior to that.

I find it appalling that so few are willing to say, flat out, that the statements made by public figures are illogical, unsupported, or simply factually incorrect.  Why are we trying to come up with a word that has the effect of dulling people's sensibilities to the fact that they're being misled and lied to?  Bachmann and her ilk, the biblical literalists, and others who have their own, special counterfactual understanding of the universe, might be able to afford to have "worldviews."

The rest of us come to our knowledge simply from observing the "world."

1 comment:

  1. Very thought-provoking post. And I agree with your comment: In our bland, multicultural desire to be accepting of all viewpoints, we have lost the edge that scholars had a century ago . . ." The political correctness in today's society is not only "bland," in the long run, it is destructive.